Although traditionally titled "The Buccaneers", the fact that the vessels depicted here are flying English national flags as opposed to the infamous 'black flag' of piracy would suggest that they are privateers rather than the more notorious breed of men who referred to themselves as the 'brethren of the coast'. Admittedly the 'brethren' or buccaneers differed from pirates by virtue of the fact that they did not prey upon ships of their own nation but, nevertheless, the Red Ensigns and, more particularly, the Union flag (commonly known as the 'Union Jack') gives this squadron a quasi-official status never enjoyed by simple adventurers.
Privateers were originally privately owned armed vessels which operated against enemy trade in time of war although the name gradually became synonymous with both the ships and the men who sailed in them. The ships themselves were commissioned under so-called "Letters of Marque", effectively a licence to take enemy prizes in wartime with the value of anything captured then divided between Crown and owner on the basis of 10 and 90 respectively. Whilst very much an English invention, the practice soon spread to all the other mercantile nations until finally abolished in 1856. The golden age of privateering included characters such as Sir Francis Drake and, later, Sir Henry Morgan, whilst the most lucrative hunting-ground was inevitably the Caribbean where there was always the chance of a homeward-bound Spanish galleon laden with bullion waiting to be attacked, taken and sacked.